It’s been a while since I posted book reviews in this blog so I figured I should post mini reviews for some of the e-ARCs I’ve read for the past months. I usually just post my reviews on Goodreads but they’re more stream-of-consciousness ramblings rather than elaborate discussions. The reviews in this post are slightly more eloquent with lesser keyboard smash. An important improvement if I do say so myself 😌
The books featured in this post are already out in the wild. I liked all three of them so I hope you consider checking them all out!
Note: I was granted access to these ARCs by the publishers through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All the quotes mentioned below are taken from uncorrected proofs and are subject to change upon publication.
Clues to the Universe by Christina Li
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.
Trigger/content warnings:death of parent or loved one, bullying, grief, divorce, abandonment
This is a story about family and friendship that will make you feel things
I am used to reading fast-paced fantasy middle grade books which is why I was pleasantly surprised when this quiet middle grade swept me off my feet. Clues to the Universe is a brilliant debut set in the 1980s that follows Ro and Benji—two promising kids who unexpectedly found friendship through science and comics. I love how the progression of their bond seemed so realistic, showing the highs and lows of new friendship in an endearing way. Their friendship is imperfect in a lot of ways but it was heartwarming to see these two kids comfort each other when they get consumed by painful emotions.
Clues to the Universe also explores family dynamics. Ro and Benji yearn for their fathers, and they both found a certain connection to each other because of this. I admire how this book shows the contrast between Ro and Benji’s families, with Ro having a close relationship with her mom and Benji finding it difficult to open up to his. Personally, I think their mothers are the real champions of this book. The kids’ fathers are integral to this story but it’s their moms who gave them love and comfort in the midst of their grief.
It features a raw representation of grief that punched me in the heart
I cried at least five times while reading this book. Christina Li’s raw portrayal of loss and grief broke me into a hundred pieces. Despite the heaviness of these concepts, I believe that Christina portrayed both in a way that is still palatable to younger readers. This is a book that will tug your heartstrings, regardless of age.
Despite all the waterworks, this book is not entirely bleak. I definitely felt a lot of pain while reading it but accompanying that was a feeling of hope. Ro and Benji, despite everything they’ve been through, have big hearts and big dreams. I couldn’t help but cheer them on with a smile on my lips and tears in my eyes.
Because here’s the thing about the universe: sometimes it doesn’t tell you all its secrets at once. Sometimes you have to spend years, decades, to answer a question you have. Sometimes you have to travel to the deepest of jungles or to the edges of space to figure things out. And sometimes you don’t figure things out, but get one step closer.
Final remarks: Highly recommended. Prepare tissues before flipping the first page.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Publication date: January 19, 2021
Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?
Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.
Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.
With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.
Trigger/content warnings:racism and racist microaggressions, bullying, disappearance and presumed death of a loved one, mild violence
- It lived up to its magical premise
In Amari and the Night Brothers, B.B. Alston crafted a hidden magical world and a whimsical magic camp that feature a lot of popular supernatural characters (including magicians, vampires, leprechauns, and there may or may not be dragons 👀). Amari’s adventures as a trainee at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs really entertained me, too. The Junior Agent tasks were all cleverly-written and a delight to read.
What made this book shine was Amari herself, a protagonist who, despite all the setbacks and bullies, still managed to fight and make herself stronger. Amari and the Night Brothers not only has great world-building, but compelling character development as well.
- Yes to precious sibling relationships and surprising twists!
I love the sibling relationship between Amari and Quinton. Reading about how Amari is willing to do everything to find her brother warmed my heart. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Quinton in the sequel because he really seems to be a supportive brother and an overall amazing character.
This book also surprised me in so many ways. I’m usually perceptive when it comes to plot twists (this claim is disputable) but the major twist in Amari took me by surprise. I can’t wait for the next book to come out. This is a new middle grade fantasy series you don’t want to miss.
I’m not the girl who gives up. I’m the girl who tries. The girl who fights. The girl who believes.
Final remarks: Highly recommended. Expect to be blown away.
The Project by Courtney Summers
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.
When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.
Trigger/content warnings:death of parents/loved ones, cults, emotional abuse and manipulation, gaslighting, torture, grief, depression, abandonment, murder, captivity, violence
- This is a deeply unsettling read that will mess with your emotions
First of all, you need to understand that this book explores a lot of heavy themes that may be triggering so please make sure you’re in the right headspace before diving into it. The Project is an emotional thriller that explores trauma and the chilling pull of cults, giving me goosebumps at a lot of points in the story. It’s obvious that Courtney Summers did a lot of research in writing this book, successfully shrouding The Project with an unsettling atmosphere that left my emotions in shambles. As a reader, I even questioned whether The Unity Project was truly bad or not. Deep down, I knew it couldn’t be anything but a cult. However, reading about all these devoted people who seem to want for nothing because of The Unity Project made me doubt things. The Project will make you question the characters and even yourself.
- The storytelling will pull you in and leave you breathless
The nonlinear storytelling of The Project is another of one of its strong points. Told in two timelines and perspectives, this harrowing tale follows two siblings—Lo in the present and her sister Bea in the past. It was interesting to read about these sisters who became separated after a terrible accident and the sudden appearance of The Unity Project in their lives. I was filled with a feeling of anticipation while reading, desperately wanting for their timelines to meet so the two estranged sisters can finally have their reunion. There’s also the mystery of what happened to Bea after her disappearance and the truth about The Unity Project that can only be found out by following her journey. At first, the slow pacing made it hard for me to connect with the story but the prospect of Lo and Bea meeting after all these years kept me at the edge of my seat.
This book got darker the deeper I went into it. When I finally uncovered all the mysteries, I was left breathless by the horror of it all. What makes this book terrifying is the fact that the villain of the story is a human who most probably exists in reality. The Project is not just fiction. This kind of story exists in real life. There are people in this world who have experienced and are still experiencing the trauma that is deeply ingrained in this book.
I just found the ending to this story lacking but overall, I can’t deny that I was blown away by The Project as a whole.
Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make—and no one but the two of you can break.
Final remarks: Recommended. Make sure you’re in the right headspace before picking this up.
All done! I guess I’m going to post more mini ARC reviews in the future since they’re easier for me to write. Tell me in the comments below if you like them or not. (i really hope you do)
I hope you’re having a great February so far! I’m currently struggling in terms of creating content but I will fight through this block somehow. See you in my next post ♥️